The Department of English offers its PhD students a wide range of teaching opportunities. Positions within the departmental curriculum include course assistantships in a variety of courses, freestanding undergraduate courses, and BA honors paper supervising.
To expand the range of their teaching experiences, some students in English also choose to teach outside of the department. They accept positions as lecturers in the Writing Program, writing interns in the Humanities Common Core for college freshman, preceptors in the University's Masters of Arts in the Humanities (MAPH) program, and writing tutors.
Types of Teaching Opportunities in the Department of English Curriculum
Course assistantships in faculty-taught departmental courses provide graduate students the opportunity to become an integral part of undergraduate instruction while acquiring pedagogical, collegial, and other professional experience. The course assistant (CA) gains experience in the planning and conducting of a course and receives guidance and some ongoing faculty supervision as he or she leads classes and grades papers. The CA's pedagogical role involves teaching his or her own stand-alone section once a week or a stipulated number of classes during the quarter, in addition to holding office hours for students, and reading, commenting on, and suggesting grades for their work. Course assistants are often allowed the autonomy to select texts and devise agendas for discussion that are consistent with the aims of the course.
Freestanding Lecture Courses
Advanced PhD students have the opportunity to design their own undergraduate courses for the departmental curriculum. Some of these courses focus on the literary, conceptual, or historical areas in which students have great expertise and skill. Others are planned as genre, period, survey, or single author courses. These courses help the Department offer an interesting program of courses to our undergraduates. They also provide PhD students the chance to develop the types of courses that they will continue to teach throughout their career. In addition to lectureship opportunities that are part of regular departmental curricula, the Humanities Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago sponsors five Stuart Tave Teaching Fellowships for freestanding courses designed by graduate students. The Department has successfully nominated students to the Humanities Collegiate Division for these awards in recent years. (See the Humanities Division Website for details about these opportunities.)
Some graduate students in the Department will have the opportunity to become BA preceptors. Each BA preceptor will help to guide approximately 12 students through the year-long process of undertaking a BA project, which can involve either a lengthy piece of criticism or a creative work. Over the year, BA preceptors for critical projects will normally convene group sessions devoted to sharpening students' analytic, research, and writing skills and acquainting them with online and archival research materials and strategies. The preceptors read and evaluate all written drafts of student's BA projects. Preceptors for creative writing projects meet with students on a regular basis both individually and in small groups throughout the year and also read and evaluate all written drafts. In both cases, critical and creative preceptors gain valuable experience in teaching the processes of writing and in assessing multiple drafts of student writings--tasks that are essential training for professors in the field.
The University of Chicago, with the help of the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), operates a one-quarter study-abroad program in London for junior and senior undergraduates in the College. The course and program assistant (CPA) for the London Program helps to ensure the smooth functioning of this program. The CPA acts as a liaison between the students, faculty, and administrators; organizes social events; and is available to undergraduates with problems or concerns. As a course assistant, the CPA works with the three University of Chicago faculty members, attending classes and holding office hours. The CPA also teaches a stand-alone course at the end of the quarter, usually of his or her own design. Compensation includes round-trip airfare to and from London, accommodation, a stipend, payment for the course taught, and a per diem for food and other expenses. This position is available only to graduate students who have completed their oral examinations in Humanities or Social Sciences. Many English graduate students have worked in this program in the past decade and have also used the trip to facilitate their own dissertation research.
Types of Teaching Opportunities Outside of the PhD Program
Advanced graduate students from all disciplines in the Humanities Division can apply to work as preceptors in MAPH. Each preceptor meets with a group of ten to twelve students throughout the academic year. Preceptors’ responsibilities include academic and professional advising; weekly discussion groups and grading in connection with the required MAPH Core Course in fall quarter; thesis writing workshops during the winter and spring quarters; and participating in a range of social and other program events. The MAPH preceptorship offers a great a range of intellectual and professional demands and pleasures, and the MAPH community is close-knit and enthusiastic. Together with the rest of the MAPH staff, MAPH preceptors help more than a hundred new graduate students through an intensive year to a master's degree in June.
Writing Program/Common Core
The Writing Program at the University of Chicago hires graduate students as writing interns for the University of Chicago's famous Common Core first-year college program, as undergraduate writing tutors, and as lectors in the University Writing Program. Writing interns provide writing instruction in one of the year-long humanities Common Core courses taken by all college freshman at Chicago. For these courses, interns attend the classes and do the readings, lead a sequence of writing seminars that teach advanced academic writing, and help the faculty member mark and grade papers. Writing tutors hold office hours, helping undergraduates with the argumentation, organization, and revision of papers. Lectors in advanced academic and professional writing courses attend weekly lectures and meet with a few students once a week in a seminar format. Lectors read students' weekly papers, lead the seminar discussion, and write extensive critiques on the papers each week. All of these positions help English PhD students focus on their skills in assessing student writings, and many English PhD students have worked in these positions over the years.
Other Teaching Resources
The Chicago Center for Teaching on campus offers a number of excellent one-day programs throughout the year on particular topics (e.g., leading classroom discussions, preparing syllabi, grading, etc.). The Center also sponsors an annual two-day training session of lectures and workshops in late September, usually during registration week, specifically intended to prepare students who will be teaching at the University for the first time. The Center is beginning to add sessions for "stand-alone" instructors, as well, so check its website for more information. Students are expected to attend the September sessions before they begin teaching for the first time at the University of Chicago. Also, for graduate students who are teaching their own courses, the Center offers a Mid-Course Service and taped Individual Teaching Consultations. Note that, for those who are interested, the Center also offers a Teaching Certificate, which can be useful when students are applying for teaching jobs.
Each student who is admitted to the Department of English PhD program currently receives a generous five-year fellowship, which requires the fulfillment of 3-5 quarter-long teaching obligations (depending on the type of teaching) within the five years of the fellowship. The Department's financial package keeps the amount of obligatory teaching graduate students have to perform rather low, as a part of a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, we ensure that graduate students have enough teaching experience, including experience in classes in their area of specialization, to be strong candidates on the academic job market. On the other hand, we also make sure that students do not have excessive teaching loads so that they can concentrate on their dissertation research. Students typically teach in their third, fourth, and fifth years of the PhD program.